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The McAfee Virus: Suicide as a Viral Conspiracy Theory
The Viral Seed
On June 23, 2021, a Spanish court made the ruling that John McAfee would be extradited to the United States on tax-evasion charges. Hours after the ruling, McAfee was found dead in his Jail cell of an apparent suicide. This fact alone would have been enough to satiate conspiracy theorists, as his jail cell suicide echoes that of Jeffrey Epstein. However, shortly after the announcement of his death, the @officialjohnmcaffee Instagram account posted a picture of a Q.
The post is suspicious in that:
it is coming from the account from an individual who is dead,
from a social media account that is rarely used by the individual in question (last post is October 5, 2020, and the one before that was November 14, 2019);
According to a July 2019 Instagram post, McAfee was not the only one who had access to the account;
if this was a legitimate post, why not use his Twitter account where he was more active and had a larger following.
All in all, this gives me reasonable grounds to believe that this was an attempt at trolling by someone who had access to McAffee’s account.
Why should we care?
From a threat actor perspective, this is not something that would raise a red flag in regards to potential acts of violence. What it does provide is an opportunity for A) QAnon influencers to exert their conspiratorial authority over their communities, and B) provide for QAnon and other actors in alt-tech ecosystems to interact with each other over a common conspiratorial narrative. QAnon as a participatory movement survives and thrives on these types of situations. QAnon adherents are not passive readers of conspiracy theories dropped by ‘Q’ or crafted by influencers in the movement. Rather, they are also content creators who generate memes, videos, texts, music, films and social media content, which in turn feeds and generates the influencers. This behaviour encourages broad participation, grassroots creativity, and economy of ideas.
This in turn permits community building. As Amarnath Amarasingam has highlighted participating in online communities “tends to foster an increased connection to other members of the online community while also solidifying one’s membership in it. As Barkun notes, ‘The validation that comes from seeing one’s beliefs echoed by others provides a sense of connection for otherwise isolated individuals.’”
There is a parallel between belief in conspiracy theories and religion, and QAnon exemplifies a type of spiritual behaviour; most notably in that QAnon adherents and influencers take popular cultural artefacts and integrate them into a spiritual framework. Specifically: the seeker as consumer and/or audience member, receiving the conspiracy theories in a kind of secularized parallel to traditional religious revelation, albeit received in these cases from the creators of media content rather than a deity. Though it may seem trivial, or theoretical, events like these do play a role in sustaining these ecosystems, which foment behaviours and beliefs that lead to radicalization, and as we have seen at times radicalization to violence.
For those of you who are curious, or have loved ones that are pilled and want to know what is happening in this space, let’s dive into what the influencers, adherents and other actors are saying.
The Narrative: #McAfeeDidntKillHimself
This is the most obvious route as it aligns with an established conspiracy narrative as it aligns itself with Jefferey Epstein didn’t kill himself; something McAffee himself espoused. McAfee himself had tweeted in the past that if he ever “hung” himself a la Epstein it would not be an accident.
McAffee had claimed in 2019 that he had information that could help the world, but he is keeping it private as he would be a dead man if he released it. He also got a “$WHACKD” tattoo to reinforce the concept.
The first thing that OG QAnon influencers or adherents will do is turn to ‘Q’ drops (the posts made by the anonymous user on 8kun). Unsurprisingly, they found Qdrop 1528 from June 2018 that mention Barcelona. This provides a delta (a point of confirmation that an incident of importance to the movement, as indicated by ‘Q’)
With this past posting, combined with a Qdrop indicating that this may be important and predicted by ‘Q”, there is plenty for conspiracy theorists to run with, unsurprisingly at the top of the list is the Clinton Body Count conspiracy theory. This is the false belief that Bill and Hillary Clinton have assassinated people who get in their way (for more details listen to this QAnon Anonymous or Skeptoid episode). This is a tried and true conspiracy that dates back to the 90s. As Mike Rothschild Reports, it started with anti-Clinton Media Figure Linda Thompson. It has also appeared in multiple conspiratorial contexts outside of QAnon, Alex Kaplan reported in July 2017 that a Pro-Trump outlet falsely claimed that the Clintons murdered a former Haitian government official.
Another, explanation was that McAfee had found a vulnerability with Dominion, and that the machines that weren’t patched could be hacked. it is not surprising to find
that the death of McAffee is being tied to the election results and the audits have been the main focus of QAnon influencers. QAnon influencers and adherents seem to have an issue distinguishing between the company and John McAfee. Though the company bears his name, he has not had anything to do with them for over 20 years. Therefore, A) John McAfee, has nothing to do with the company that has found the D5 vulnerability and B) the technical article does not mention Dominion at all. D5 is significant to QAnon adherents, as December 5th is a key date to QAnon and is supposed to be the date where a ‘Q’ prediction comes through. Therefore, we can see how influencers will seek to make meaning out of various pieces of information and link it to narratives in their wider ecosystem, even though there is no logic to an outsider. There is the certain need for “gnosis” (knowledge based on personal experience or perception) to understand what this means. Linked to the voter fraud narrative are those who claim that Spain played a role in switching votes for the US election and that Dominion has an HQ in Barcelona, and that McAfee was killed has he was going to blow the whistle on election fraud. Here we see the combination of multiple narratives circulating in QAnon ecosystems and being adapted to the news of the day to make meaning to adherents in the community.
Others find secret codes due to confirmation bias, or a general lack of understanding of how the internet works, which is none to different that many others on the web.
In this instance a QAnon influencer claimed that the picture posted by McAfee on his Instagram, had a cryptographic key embedded in it. He shared the “raw” picture with his followers in his channel, stating this might some kind of stunt and not “part of the plan”, because McAfee had confessed online to being an addicted cannibal. When Poker and Politics shared this with me via DM on Twitter, my initial reaction was to roll my eyes and rage. Why? Well, you cannot get a raw image from Instagram, rather when a user uploads an image to the platform, the metadata of the file is changed by Instagram (as with most social media platforms). Therefore, the cryptographic key he found would not be a viable source of some coded message from the forces working against the Deep State. On the upside it only took him an hour to realize his mistake so good on him for the mea culpa.
Others like Lin Wood, decided that the hero of McAfee’s apparent suicide is Lin Wood. He informed his 842,834 channel subscribers that he had met with McAfee months ago and interviewed him as did Stew Peters( host of The Patriotically Correct Radio Show). McAfee blew the whistle on political actors in the US and Wood tried
to have those accusations investigated and validated. As a result Wood was attacked by, not sure who. Therefore, Wood is also a victim hero; since the powers that be won’t investigate, Wood tells his followers to do the research and connect the dots (who does not love conspiratorial snowballing). Some OG QAnon influencers seem dubious of Wood’s claims and appear to have informed their followers not to trust anyone “sitting in high places” who claim to have McAfee’s blackmail.
Others believe that he is not dead and the media is helping the deep state as there is “evidence” of a US military place leaving Madrid to come to the USA. The only possible explanation is that McAfee is on the plane and has been kidnapped by the Depp State/s.
In the same vein, some are saying the person in the cell is a body double and that McAfee is being taken to some CIA black site,
So what now?
McAfee was known to be a liar and attention whore; considering his predicament, it is not outside the realm of possibility that this was all staged in order to go out in a blaze of glory, with the hope his death generated as much attention as Epstein's. The problem with the 'Q' post on Instagram is that McAfee is not a figure that is necessarily trusted by all QAnon influencers due to his past mention of being a cannibal. Also McAfee did not have the same interactions with key QAnon players like Epstein did. More importantly Epstein's crimes are closely linked to the central belief of QAnon, whereas McAfee is not. In Reality Epstein has trended more than McAfee in the wake of his death, which shows the cultural impact and significance of the Epstein death.
Also, last night Facebook possibly took down McAfee’s Instagram account, and QAnon has noticed, which only feeds their narratives. In my opinion, if the platform did take action, they should have left the post up and restricted comments and sharing, as the image was already in the wild. In the mind of the conspiracy theorists, Facebook is helping to hide something.
Takedowns are not the best approach in some instances, and this is one of them. As there is no official statement as of yet from Facebook on this, there is a possibility that the account holder deleted the account.
In reality, this might just be a flashpoint event and die down in the next 24-48hrs, or it might have legs of its own, only time will tell. What we can deduce, however, is that QAnon is not dead, but alive and well.